MON JOURNAL INTIME:
un défilé de trente autoportraits subjectifs;
réalisés avec différents styles de peinture abstraite.
COMMENTS BY THE PAINTER.
The intention behind my paintings (notably my self-portraits) is to explore storytelling through visual imagery, accompanied by short essays. I have approached self-portraiture in numerous and various styles; and always in my own way. The paintings are essentially free-standing, but after having gotten so many questions about both what my inspiration behind my paintings is and about how I achieved various effects, I have chosen to supplement my paintings with texts which address these questions. In addition, I wish to underscore the various levels of decision-making in both Art and Literature, along with the technical effects used to achieve the intended results. It is — as always — up to the Viewer/Reader to judge the degree of success achieved in their own eyes. My Art and writing are always meant and designed to invite the Viewer and Reader to participate emotionally and to encourage his/her own creative responses to my creations and ideas. Throughout the ages, interpretations of artists’ and writers’ aims, goals, and approaches (as well as the meanings of our work) have been left to critics and Art Historians. Artists and writers have been generally encouraged to remain quiet about their own work. Times have changed, and I choose to give both visual and literary hints and signposts regarding my thoughts, techniques, styles, and processes. In this way, I am better able to show the core of Art, Literature, Poetry, Dance, and Music — which are interrelated in the cognitive and subjective creative processes. My novels and poetry have always been “cinematic”, and it is also that aspect that I reinforce in my present work. At the same time, each painting approaches the various ideas, themes, and questions from a different style of painting — ranging from abstract to semi-realism. I experiment constantly with degrees of realism — making certain to stop short of too much detail, which decreases both subjectivity and space for the Viewer to participate with her/her own thoughts and recognition of personal experience. The essays are essentially free-verse poems, where the cognitive and technical discussions meld together with the subjective and visual imagery in the texts. Here poetic meter is more internal meter, and conceptual groupings of ideas are equally important as the choice of descriptive poetic imagery in the form of words chosen. This is all a continuation of my aforementioned philosophy regarding “Extreme Art and Literature”, which is based on the idea that Extreme Art and Literature today are not blatantly shocking in intent or effect; but rather quite “normal” in the expression of collective and individual ideas and technique but which contain a slight twist which evokes an element of slight surprise. That can be in the form of an unusual idea, color, stylistic decision, or anything else that causes a ripple in the way we think we see things. That momentary minor provocation is enough to incite in the Viewer and Reader a pause and reassessment of his/her own set perceptions. It is there that Creativity has its Renaissance within us as individuals, and then eventually in a collective sense.
Many of these self-portraits are COVID-19-related paintings — a documentation of my own and others’ pandemic thoughts, fears, hopes and experiences.
COVID-19 has been quite the challenge for most of us. The idea of sacrificing the illusion of freedom in order to secure survival has been difficult for many in the Western hemisphere to accept for more than a few months at a time. Our forefathers have accepted such in times of war, but we have difficulties accepting that we are “at war” with The Virus — and that it is a result of “our own doing/undoing”. Here, I have chronicled some of my own perceptions, feelings and experiences during the 2020 COVID-19 challenge:
1: “The Mask”, 65 x 90 cm., oil on canvas, 2019.
2. “Eternal Sleep — Mors Vincit Omnia”, 80 x 60 cm., oil on canvas, 2021.
“Eternal Sleep — Mors Vincit Omnia”, 80 x 60 cm., oil on canvas, 2021.
One of the largest challenges for an artist is possibly that of deciding / daring to envision and portray oneself as dead. While Death itself is a fascinating theme for many artists, the psychological and superstitious reasons for not painting oneself as deceased keeps many artists in lockdown as regards trespassing and overcoming this mental and emotional hurdle. On ne peut pas vivre sa vie en ayant peur de la mort. Mais soyez assuré que la mort l’emporte sur tout, y compris la peur. You cannot live your life being afraid of death. But rest assured that death wins out over everything, including fear.
3. “Choosing a COVID-19 Vaccine — The Three Prisoner Problem”, oil on canvas, 50 x 50 cm., 2021.
From 1957 to 1980, Martin Gardner had a monthly column in Scientific American magazine where presented mathematical games. One of these games was the Three Prisoners Problem. Here is the problem explained in Wikipedia:
“Three prisoners, A, B, and C, are in separate cells and sentenced to death. The governor has selected one of them at random to be pardoned. The warden knows which one is pardoned, but is not allowed to tell. Prisoner A begs the warden to let him know the identity of one of the two who are going to be executed.
“If B is to be pardoned, give me C’s name. If C is to be pardoned, give me B’s name. And if I’m to be pardoned, secretly flip a coin to decide whether to name B or C.
“The warden tells A that B is to be executed. Prisoner A is pleased because he believes that his probability of surviving has gone up from 1/3 to 1/2, as it is now between him and C. Prisoner A secretly tells C the news, who reasons that A’s chance of being pardoned is unchanged at 1/3, but he is pleased because his own chance has gone up to 2/3. Which prisoner is correct?”
In this 24th self-portrait I create a new problem and dilemma: given the known and unknown information regarding COVID-19 vaccines today, which vaccine do we choose in order to better survive the pandemic?
Here the images resemble cut-outs that are cocooned within a violent and haphazard mass of white noise. The questions are many, and the possible consequences are yet unknown. Should I take a vaccine, or not? And if so, which vaccine is the right one (and the safest) for me? The whiteness promises hope and security, but the internalized drama is almost overwhelming. The seemingly unfinished background of the painting is by no means uniform. The sharp edges from the palette knife reveal both urgency and random underlying patches of darkness, both of which threaten to challenge the assurance of science. The message is clear: “Time is short. Humanity is at a crossroad. Choose your fate, and live or die with the consequences.”
4. “Flying/Pouting Pope”, oil on canvas, 50 x 50 cm., 2021.
This raw, figurative painting is a significant update (if not a re-interpretation) of the original surrealistic exercise in “Flying Pope” by Ban’ya Natsuishi. The painting pictures myself in a self-portrait, looking up toward a skeptical and pouting Pope Francis who is flying high overhead — in the heavy fog-ladened and snowy Winter sky — while gazing nervously down at The Plague/COVID-19 Reaper, who is partially-concealed in shadows … lurking, and ready. The painting exhibits social distancing, as all three protagonists are deep within their own thoughts and concerns, but well aware of one another. One can wonder why the Pope has no one in his hot air balloon. But his job is perhaps not to save lives or souls, but rather to communicate the Love and Blessings of God Almighty to us … regardless of our individual fates. The ice-crystallized and sometimes violent brushstrokes of the white Expressionistic background voice a hurried sense of panic and trauma, but yet with a sense of being trapped in a padded cell, or in a vacuum — with a sense of helplessness not unlike that of experiencing a train wreck in slow motion. The effect is a disassociation between the figures, and from the Viewer to the protagonists. The figures capture the eye, but the only one who looks back at the Viewer is The Plague Reaper, whose blackened eye sockets are a real danger for the careless, and for the overly curious. The blank expanses in between the figures make the painting feel at once both unfinished and yet complete; it is an unfinished symphony — that can never be final. While the heavy abstract fog may perhaps impair our visibility immediately, we do not need to use our eyes to know that The Last Word is but an oxymoron; or thought expressed all too quickly. And that the apprehensive silence of the white expanse tells us much more Truth than the protagonists ever will. One thing is certain, the freezing cold ice crystals thickening the air and the three protagonists huddling within their own individual consciousness give little immediate sense of hope or solace.
5. « Shadow » – 影, 65 x 90 cm., oil on canvas, 2020.
— Adam Donaldson Powell
6. “Don’t Ask!”, oil on canvas, 40 x 40 cm., 2020.
Painting: “Don’t Ask!”, oil on canvas, 40 x 40 cm., 2020.
please don’t ask me how I am;
you can’t really expect
me to be any different
than I was yesterday.
we’re all really quite normal —
me, myself and I, and in
spite of our narcotic state can
be up and down simultaneously.
and don’t look at me too long;
I despise those “I know
how you must be feeling
eyes” and concerned tone.
why must you always misconstrue
the way my gaze avoids yours?
my anti-social disposition is
intended to protect you from us.
no — it doesn’t help to
speak slowly, pronouncing
each word with the sweetened
diction of a nun or nurse.
I honestly can’t tell you how to
act, for I have trouble enough
getting us to agree about
how we’ll shield you from me.
it’s really best to let me volunteer,
lest my unbridled demons unleash
their flame-throwing dragons to singe
the delicate threads of your own ego.
and you, so footloose, must avoid looking
back into the darkness whose glittering
maze of mirrors encapture those who poke
their noses where they don’t belong.
go ahead — ask me how I am …
7. “X, Y and Z Generations … in Troubled Times”.
8. “The Scream” (Isbad), 60 x 80 cm., oil on canvas, 2020.
Painting: “The Scream” / “Isbad”, 60 x 80 cm., oil on canvas, 2020.
“The Scream” (Isbad), 60 x 80 cm., oil on canvas, 2020.
My twentieth self-portrait is entitled “The Scream”. This painting is inspired by Edvard Munch’s iconic painting of the same name, and Marina Abramovic’s fantastic work based upon Munch’s painting. There have been countless interpretations of Edvard Munch’s famous painting. Here I have presented the theme as a self-portrait (in semi-realistic style) which is (like the original) based in Norway. I have subtitled the painting “Isbad” (Ice bath) which is a Nordic winter ritual entailing skinny dipping in ice cold water. Ice bathing is a very old tradition in the Scandinavian countries, and it has a reputation for being both healthy and cleansing. The painting’s protagonist (me) screams in initial shock at the severity of the experience.
9. “Coffin Portrait / Lockdown — Summer fun”, oil on canvas, 55 x 46 cm., 2020.
10. “Masquerade: COVID-19”, oil on canvas, 46 x 55 cm., 2020.
11. “A Portrait of the Artist as a Psycho”, oil on canvas, 60 x 80 cm., 2021.
This self-portrait explores many questions, including the suggestion that a degree of psychosis can be a defining element in creative genius, as well as containing hints of visual processing abnormalities, visual stimulation, perceptual aberrations and hallucinations, color preferences and phobias, and moreover the difficulties in identifying a «psycho»; who most often looks “normal”, and whom many interact with — some even on a daily basis. With the preponderance of mental illness, a worldwide change of Consciousness, and increasing tolerance for being “different” than the norm, being «a little psycho» is becoming the «new normal». More and more persons are owning up to their extrasensory perceptions (ESP), clairvoyance, encounters with extraterrestrials, speaking in tongues, hearing voices from Spirit Guides, automatic writing, painting and composing. Some artists (such as myself) get ideas and “coaching” from guides (both known, and not). It is not always easy to sign some of my own paintings because sometimes they (works of Art) literally paint themselves due to the energies that join in the process. It is perhaps understandable that some psychotic persons refer to themselves as “We”, rather than in the first person (I).
12. «Grotesque / Falling down the Rabbit Hole», oil on canvas, 50 x 50 cm., 2021.
«Grotesque / Falling down the Rabbit Hole», oil on canvas, 50 x 50 cm., 2021.
“Grotesque” is an architectural painting, depicting an abandoned villa in ruins. The painting derives its title from the terracotta grotesque on the facade of the building, which is a miniature self-portrait of The Dreamer. Underneath the grotesque of the sleeping dreamer is the inscription «Domus Somnia». This painting is about a nocturnal journey where the dreamer, who has been out walking about, suddenly comes upon an inviting and dilapidated villa — empty and door-less. As in many dreams, the structure is both familiar and not to the dreamer. Here, there is a head-on frontal perspective which is at once both two and three dimensional, and almost cardboard-like, thus accentuating the fragility of this mental architectural construction — which can change or disappear in a fleeting second. Even though the columns and steps at the entrance show signs of a dizzying slight sway forewarning collapse, the Dreamer cannot resist entering through the dark portal — unwitting that he is soon to fall into a bottomless void of Darkness. Should the dreamer allow the building to collapse before entering and rather move on to another dream sequence in this nocturnal journey, or should he play out his role as The Fool and hope that he can wake himself up when necessary?
In the twenty-fifth hour,
as sleeplessness concedes
to Jungian twilight,
the inviolate ticking
of the bedside clock
with sinister rhythm.
It is a requiem of
unprotected souls are
magically ushered to
the threshold of time’s end.
Clock hands melt into
surreal images of groping,
disembodied appendages which
pull me down into the
infernal swirling oblivion.
I seem to fall forever;
plummeting past floating
sandstone ruins, through
prehistoric jungles and
at last into a vast galaxy
of translucent emerald shards.
The heartbeats of innumerable
urge me to scream before
striking bottom, and I
awaken in a panic: grasping
for the luminous dial
of my unwitting timepiece.
— Adam Donaldson Powell, “Collected poems and stories”, Cyberwit, 2005.
13. “Photo Booth”, 90 x 65 cm., oil on canvas, 2020.
The dark one
Lurks not in
And not amongst
His evil lies
The road to
Inertia and ruin,
Of false splendor
Little more than
Of darkness ..
Of mirrors …
But most of all
Of the devil
That you are.
(Copyright Adam Donaldson Powell, excerpted from “The Magical Tarot”, “Collected poems and stories”, 2005.)
no reside en las sombras,
ni entre tus amigos
Sus mentiras malvadas
cerca de ti,
esperan a ser liberadas
por los descendientes de
Con no caer en el
camino hacia la inercia
y la ruindad,
O a ser atacado brutalmente
por la tentación y la
y los adoradores
de falsos esplendores
poco más que
Sí, hay que tener ojo
ante la oscuridad …
Y ojo con los
Pero más que nada
Con el demonio
que eres tú.
(Copyright Adam Donaldson Powell, “Three-legged Waltz”, 2006, trad. de María Cristina Azcona, Argentina)
14. “Le vieil homme dans la Lune”, oil on canvas, 50 x 50 cm., 2021.
“Le vieil homme dans la Lune”, oil on canvas, 50 x 50 cm., 2021.
Mankind’s fascination with the Man in the Moon represents a beloved age-old archetype which still incites curiosity, mystery and self-reflection. Whose image is it that stares back at us so intently … peering into our subconscious with existential defiance? We see a face … because it is a face. My face; your face. Yes, those mysterious shadowy craters are our own, mirrored and reflected back to us. Every full moon we are reminded to look inward and at the same time to experience both universal humility and personal strength. The image is in fact neither male nor female … nor transgender. For me, he is myself — an old man, aspiring to become as balanced as The wise Old Man in the Moon. His important reminder that Life is not for novices is key to both survival and Dreams. This message is broadcast through the Moon’s own mirrored image, expanding and strengthening itself manifold. If you listen closely the you may hear his mantra: “I.AM”.
15. “Breaking through”, 50 x 50 cm., oil on canvas, 2021.
“Breaking through”, oil on canvas, 50 x 50 cm., 2021, is a black-and-white minimalistic self-portrait about breaking through the barrier of White Supremacy. The white barrier seems impenetrable and all-consuming, and the only ticket is convincing Supremacists that non-Whites are enough like them to warrant acceptance. But acceptance is neither a given, nor guaranteed to last. Like with immigrants in a new country, being accepted as “one of us” is a constant battle — often stretching over several generations. Non-Whites will never be Caucasian, no matter how much we try to pass as white. Thus, Non-Whites must learn “grayness”, as bleaching our skin and talking like a native does not remove one’s Blackness, Latino-ish, or Asian-ish. Therefore the self-portrait is in gray tones. But when breaking through we must carry our Blackness with us, and thus we must also break through the stereotypes and xenophobia used against us.
This is a two-sided painting. The back side shows the back of my head:
16. “Secundo Fluctus”, 50 x 50 cm., oil on canvas, 2021.
17. “Jeux d’eau – une forte pluie est imminente”, oil on canvas, 60 x 80 cm.
“Jeux d’eau – une forte pluie est imminente”, oil on canvas, 60 x 80 cm. This is a self-portrait in black, white and grey tones, featuring a cameo of myself lost in thought; and frozen within a simple abstract-minimalistic backdrop of an overcast day in January with an imminent threat of rainfall. Here, the holiday celebrations and New Year’s resolutions are put on hold, acquiescing to reflection and the early stages and impulses of new creativity … and ultimately leading to a Renaissance of self-definition. It is a visual representation of aloneness, which is more characterized by the promise of fulfillment rather than loneliness. It is … perfection.
The painting is inspired by my poem of the same title:
jeux d’eau ;
dégel du printemps :
parfois en cascades …
beau à regarder.
et pourtant fascinant de voir
comment ces jeux d’eau
peuvent à la fois
donner une nouvelle vie,
et nous soutenir …
mais quelque fois aussi détruire
beaucoup de ce qui est
naturel et artificiel …
from my book: « Jisei », 2013, Cyberwit publishers.
18. “THREESOME — Me, Myself and I”, 50 x 50 cm., oil on canvas, 2021.
This is my twenty-fifth self-portrait, featuring two headshots in profile, and which are facing another straight-on headshot. The intention is to simulate an age-weathered Warhol-era Pop-Art silk-screened graphics poster background, with the figurative images in a style that might be reminiscent of charcoal and oil stick sketches. Here pop-art meets and confronts the classical-modernist sketching class. Having resided just a few blocks from Warhol’s studio, I never once wondered about or marveled at the co-existence of these two art worlds in the same neighborhood. Life and Art were a cross between a busy beehive and an everyday circus back then. But all worlds met up at nighttime … at bars, rock, punk and New Wave clubs, discotheques, coffee shops … and sex clubs/gay saunas.
This naked and introspective selfie-study is a commentary on the Artist in social distance isolation, and is in reality a subjective investigation of oneself. How does one see and perceive oneself privately — through different angles and profiles — like when we look into a mirror?
“Art should comfort the disturbed, and disturb the comfortable”. — Cesar A. Cruz
MIRROR OF DARKNESS.
Quite enraptured by my own image
in a Mirror of Darkness,
I abandon both reflection and shadow
for a glimpse of the Unknown.
The night offers no refraction other than
the glint of an inner eye:
Yea, the paradox of Blindness is revealed
through discovery of Self alone.
(poem and oil painting by Adam Donaldson Powell)
I identify enthusiastically with Frida Kahlo’s comments about her own self-portrait series:
“This is my ongoing self-portrait series, in which I explore different ways of seeing and presenting myself — with various styles and painting techniques. I paint self-portraits because I am so often alone because I am the person I know best. I tried to drown my sorrows, but the bastards learned how to swim, and now I am overwhelmed by this decent and good feeling. Nothing is worth more than laughter. It is a strength to laugh and to abandon oneself, to be light.”
— Frida Kahlo
I have gained much inspiration from visiting the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam, the National Portrait Gallery in London, and several other art galleries and art museums in Europe whose exhibitions and permanent collections feature portraits. As a result, figurative art and portraiture have become new and exciting genres for my own artistic expression. While I cannot say that I am following in Vincent Van Gogh’s footsteps by painting self-portraits, I do see the value in doing so to chart my personal and artistic development. These self-portraits teach me much as regards technique, and they allow me to explore many diverse painting styles — as I attempt to “redefine portraiture” in a contemporary sense — meaning incorporating portraits into contexts with relevance to far more than myself alone, and with styles that range from caricature to semi-realism.
Perhaps like the self-portraits of Vincent Van Gogh, my own painted selfies also reveal where my head is at — and rather candidly — at any given point in time. I have painted twenty-one self-portraits to date. More are certain to come.
— Adam Donaldson Powell
NB. Van Gogh painted more than thirty self-portraits in the last five years of his life. Rubens painted seven self-portraits. Rembrandt painted more than forty self-portraits. And Frida Kahlo painted fifty-five self-portraits.
19. Madre e Hijo, 60 c 80 cm., oil on canvas, 2020.
“Madre e Hijo”, 60 x 80 cm., oil on canvas, 2020. This new self-portrait is based upon a photo of myself as a three-year-old, together with my mother, in 1957. This, my nineteenth self-portrait, is a somewhat simple, but poetic (Stimmung), light impasto, semi-realistic painting, which is partly inspired in theme by Edvard Munch’s iconic painting “The Sun” (“Solen”, 1909), which also is a homage to the Sun; and Picasso’s many mother and son paintings. But here, rather, the sun takes on an all-pervading expression of hope, realignment, and healing after a period of intense challenges and changes, as it is symbolized by a double-sun which burns through the gloaming of our somnolence. The twilight blue background, painted with soft velvet texturing, hints as well at blankets of both sky and sea; giving a sense of opportunity, expansiveness, and profundity. I have avoided common clichés such as red suns, piercing sun rays, and the sun setting in landscapes or seascapes, and I have instead painted the background in a way that implies parched earth reflected blue by the expansive twilight sky. This vision is delightful but within its mysteries lies a reminder of an inescapable Truth: even the best moments of our lives are but temporary. The figurative renderings are composites of our features then and in later years, extrapolated from an old sepia-print daguerreotype from the mid-50s. I tried to capture the unspoken worry in the face of the Mother, from various life challenges: the Cold War, divorce, etc.; as well as my own exaggerated quirkiness — not unlike The Fool in the Tarot — unwittingly joyful, but like the Mother, trying to smile somewhat forcibly for the photographer. In the original photo, the smiles are beaming and beautiful, but here I wanted to reach beyond the moment in between the coaxed frozen smiles elicited by the photographer; resulting in a universal archetype all can relate to (contortions included). These altered faces are painted and shadow-masked in desert camouflage-style; thus alluding to the understanding that major efforts must be made in the face of conflict and struggle. This is accentuated by the purposefully uneven border around the portrait, which is wavering and stretching toward the sun — in hope of the best future for her son. And at the same time, the lifting of the corner can be interpreted as the eventuality of the photographed moment blowing away with the Winds of Time, and being quickly forgotten. I have in this way attempted to move beyond the photographic portrait, and capture the emotional and psychological attributes behind the photogenic smile, posing questions as to the truest image: that in the photograph, or in the painting which goes beyond the photographic still moment. The theme, the style, and the liberties of portrayal taken are also a nod to Pablo Picasso’s transitional portraiture. It was in that same year (1957) that Picasso started his huge series based upon Diego Velazquez’s iconic “Las Meninas” painting (1656). Picasso’s politically confrontational series was painted twenty years after Guernica (1937), and it continues the political protest of said earlier painting against the mistreatment of Republicans in Spain under Francisco Franco. And it was Franco who ruled Spain with his iron fist when my family moved to Madrid, just a few years after the photograph was taken.
NB. My mother was herself a realistic painter, and she accessed personal strength and resolve through presenting herself outwardly as “unflappable”. Thus, admissions of internal struggle were rare; and worries and problems were protected by an underlying “on the need to know” basis of secrecy. She would never have presented herself publicly as she was on the inside … and the contortions of her own life were severely controlled under the mask of the enigmatic strong and beautiful Black Woman archetype. It was ultimately the source of her successes and of her undoing. I was her confidant from an early age. And she often commented that she and I “grew up together”.
In addition, this relatively New Mother and Son duo are also hoping that the tomorrows in their intimate relationship might forever be filled with dreams of Promise and Light. Life is a beach; and the sun shields us until the arrival of Darkness. This is echoed in the word “Cuando …”, hinting at the title text from a major popular song from my childhood years in Madrid, Spain, just a few years afterward: “ Cuando Calienta el Sol”: Cuando calienta el sol aquí en la playa; Siento tu cuerpo vibrar cerca de mí; Es tu palpitar, es tu cara, es tu pelo; Son tus besos, me estremezco, oh, oh, oh …
And on another level, this painting also serves as a commentary on those moments where we take a step back (voluntarily, or not) in order to catch our breath and to reflect upon our state of mind, and of the future of our world and humanity in the always instructive Yin – Yang cycle of existence. Moments of respite allow us to enjoy the spoils of our labor and folly, and to assess our learning, forgive and heal ourselves from our egocentric and careless transgressions … before we once again challenge ourselves and our environment in Life’s seemingly never-ending cautionary tale.
THESEUS 1: APPEAL.
Lulled by the gentle
Cradling of the waves
And the soft shimmer of
The early morning moon,
The sleeping ship coasts
Upon the foamy crests
In dreamy quietude.
The insouciant reverie
Is dutifully maintained
By the mesmerizing
Tonalities and rhythms
Of creaking planks
And ocean spray.
And keeping sole watch over
Survival and expectation
Are a lunching rodent
And the insomnious Theseus,
Kneeling in silent supplication
To the celestial guardians
Of love and beauty.
DAEDALUS 3: ELEGY.
Icarus, my son —
In all honesty, I guess we were
Always walking on the edge.
Suspended tautly between highs
And lows, we feared mediocrity
More than imbalance.
For us, the challenge was but
The means of attaining individuality;
A space unto ourselves and
Forever out of reach of
Those who dreamed but
Never dared to risk.
We soared like eagles and
We fed on desires that
Sting the heart, yet
We neither gave nor received
Beyond our passion for
Excellence through solitude.
And now that I have witnessed
The birth of my conscience,
There remains no other recourse
Than to re-invest myself in
The ongoing saga which is the
Phenomenon of life.
Heretofore, I’d always thought
That phenomenon is emptiness;
But having now lost all
That has been dear to me —
I realize that emptiness
Is a kind of phenomenon.
(From Adam Donaldson Powell’s “Collected poems and stories”, Cyberwit Publishing, 2005.
— Adam Donaldson Powell
20. ”COVID-19 — fini les bises à la pelle !”, oil on canvas, 60 x 50 cm., 2020.
”COVID-19 — fini les bises à la pelle !”, oil on canvas, 60 x 50 cm., 2020, is a self-portrait of myself hesitating to kiss my own death skull, and is surrounded by a ring of blue roses.
The blue roses symbolize the unattainable; here, an unfulfilled love-moment that is even too complicated to be described in words because our natural habit of performing the delicious bises à la pelle is abruptly stopped by the cold mental forewarning that “some doors should never be opened”. There is nothing to say, save perhaps “Oh, I almost forgot.”
This is, indeed, a challenging conceptual and technical study and essay. The image of a person kissing a death skull is an age-old meme (if not a cliché). Here the twist is to play on the concept of The Picture of Dorian Gray, whereby the death skull is the mirrored image of my true Self — i.e. that part of me that always remains constant, regardless of the « accoutrements » of fashion, disposition, or aging. In the Age of COVID-19 a simple kiss on the cheek can become the shovel that digs our own grave… Indeed we must all face our own Death, with eyes open or shut. And yet Death finds meaning only against the background of Life, though measured in mere years or breaths. Just as Light has no significance without shadow or Darkness, we cannot live Life fully being afraid of Death. On ne peut pas vivre en ayant peur de mourir …
In the immortal words of John Donne:
Death, be not proud
BY JOHN DONNE
Death, be not proud,
though some have called thee Mighty and dreadful,
for thou art not so;
For those whom thou think’st thou dost overthrow
Die not, poor Death, nor yet canst thou kill me.
From rest and sleep, which but thy pictures be,
Much pleasure; then from thee much more must flow,
And soonest our best men with thee do go,
Rest of their bones, and soul’s delivery.
Thou art slave to fate, chance, kings, and desperate men,
And dost with poison, war, and sickness dwell,
And poppy or charms can make us sleep as well
And better than thy stroke; why swell’st thou then?
One short sleep past, we wake eternally
And death shall be no more;
Death, thou shalt die.
21. «Il tessuto dell’uomo», oil on canvas, 55 x 46 cm., 2020.
«Il tessuto dell’uomo», oil on canvas, 55 x 46 cm., explores Florentine textiles and the noblemen who adorned themselves with them. On a more conceptual scale the painting alludes to «the fabric» of humanity itself.
22. «Vanishing Act», 46 x 55 cm., oil on canvas, 2020.
«Vanishing Act», 46 x 55 cm., oil on canvas, 2020, is a raw self-portrait about being careful what we wish for. While many would wish for the rapid disappearance of the CoronaVirus (COVID-19), it would presently seem more plausible that such reference be most applicable to the Fade-Out Star (R Coronae Borealis). In the upper left corner one can barely make out a vanishing star, consumed by the Darkness of Uncertainty — truly Hell in its most natural form. The raw background hints of that in many well-known paintings by Old Masters, but here there is a messy disharmony that is threatening to consume the figure in the painting and the viewer — like an unavoidable train wreck … in slow motion. There are many important lessons yet to be learned from the COVID-19 experience. It is karmic, and in that understanding lies a solace that enables us to adapt to both life during struggle … and to the inevitability of Death. The figure — itself already vanishing behind protective gear — is waist-deep in the mire, but is yet optimistic — if not aloof to the dangers of chance and folly. The true challenge is perhaps not how quickly or how completely we can return to normality, but whether the former normality is actually the problem itself.
23. “The making of a Replicant: Human Pod Project — developing embryos”, oil on canvas, 65 x90 cm., 2019.
24. «Beauty and the Beast — the kiss of the fairy», 70 x 50 cm., oil on canvas.
«Beauty and the Beast — the kiss of the fairy», 70 x 50 cm., oil on canvas. This playful self-portrait evokes fairytale analogies by way of combining semi-realism with cartoon-like expression. It is a story about love and friendship, and of eyeing boundaries and possibilities. An older man and a younger woman — both with their respective charm — in perfect dialogue, and yet each with secrets to be shared when the time is right. Unlike Edvard Munch’s dark painting entitled “The Kiss”, in this light-humored painting the kiss is not about becoming lost in one another, but rather about the play of friendship and flirtation.
25. “La mort rappelle une vie passée”, 60 x 80 cm., huile sur toile, 2020.
“La mort rappelle une vie passée”, 60 x 80 cm., huile sur toile, 2020. Voici un nouvel autoportrait, qui est surprenant, puissant et bizarre. Il présente la mort — symbolisée par un crâne. Ètonnamment, le crâne ouvre sa fermeture éclair pour révéler sa dernière incarnation … c’est “moi”, bien sûr.
26. “Entre Nous et Eux”, oil on canvas, 90×65 cm., 2019.
28. “Mindfulness”, 55 x 46 cm., oil on canvas, 2018.
29. “Portrait in Blues”, 40 x 40 cm., oil on canvas, 2019.
30. “The unraveling”, oil on canvas, 40 x 40 cm., 2021.
The intention behind my paintings (notably my self-portraits) is to explore story-telling through visual imagery, accompanied by short essays. The paintings are essentially free-standing, but after having gotten so many questions about both what my inspiration behind my paintings is and about how I achieved various effects, I have chosen to supplement my paintings with texts which address these questions. In addition, I wish to underscore the various levels of decision-making in both Art and Literature, along with the technical effects used to achieve the intended results. It is — as always — up to the Viewer/Reader to judge the degree of success achieved in their own eyes. My Art and writing are always meant and designed to invite the Viewer and Reader to participate emotionally and to encourage his/her own creative responses to my creations and ideas. Throughout the ages, interpretations of artists’ and writers’ aims, goals, and approaches (as well as the meanings of our work) have been left to critics and Art Historians. Artists and writers have been generally encouraged to remain quiet about their own work. Times have changed, and I choose to give both visual and literary hints and signposts regarding my thoughts, techniques, styles, and processes. In this way, I am better able to show the core of Art, Literature, Poetry, Dance, and Music — which are interrelated in the cognitive and subjective creative processes. My novels and poetry have always been “cinematic”, and it is also that aspect that I reinforce in my present work. At the same time, each painting approaches the various ideas, themes, and questions from a different style of painting — ranging from abstract to semi-realism. I experiment constantly with degrees of realism — making certain to stop short of too much detail, which decreases both subjectivity and space for the Viewer to participate with her/her own thoughts and recognition of personal experience. The essays are essentially free-verse poems, where the cognitive and technical discussions meld together with the subjective and visual imagery in the texts. Here poetic meter is more internal meter, and conceptual groupings of ideas are equally important as the choice of descriptive poetic imagery in the form of words chosen. This is all a continuation of my aforementioned philosophy regarding “Extreme Art and Literature”, which is based on the idea that Extreme Art and Literature today are not blatantly shocking in intent or effect; but rather quite “normal” in the expression of collective and individual ideas and technique but which contain a slight twist which evokes an element of slight surprise. That can be in the form of an unusual idea, color, stylistic decision, or anything else that causes a ripple in the way we think we see things. That momentary minor provocation is enough to incite in the Viewer and Reader a pause and reassessment of his/her own set perceptions. It is there that Creativity has its Renaissance within us as individuals, and then eventually in a collective sense.
Self-portraits enable me to approach many questions through my own eyes, thus allowing my own world view to meet and butt against collective perspectives, mores, and values. In order to inspire a renaissance in my own ongoing creative processes, I must allow myself to “unravel” from time to time. Accordingly, if I wish my Art and Literature to inspire new creative perceptions and ideas in others then I must also incite unraveling of closely-guarded assumptions about oneself, me, and the World.
I have approached self-portraiture in numerous and various styles; and always in my own way, for sure. This time I have explored Post-Impressionism, but in an updated fashion which is a step away from the works from the early 1900s. The “extreme art” element here is actually not the unraveling head; which is a popular theme in Surrealistic Art. Surrealism had its beginning at the tail end of Post-Impressionism, so in that regard, it perhaps could be seen as “extreme” by the established Post-impressionists and Impressionists in their hey-day. Surrealism is a standard and non-extreme expression of art today. But here the “extreme” and unsettling elements are the turquoise blue eyes on a Black man, as well as the unsettling naked look on his face — as though he is neither surprised nor alarmed by his unraveling. In addition, when things fly apart it is usually a traumatic experience. Here, instead, trauma is nullified by the serene and fluid background, which is as gentle as a brook or a summer sky. And just as an artist must acknowledge and wrestle with the aesthetic problem of naturalism versus abstraction, thus — here — the Mind of the Viewer must reason with human experience and memory … and in the world of extreme Art two plus two do not always add up to four. The image is even more dramatic in that the unraveling process is at the beginning stage, rather than totally realized. The Viewer can thus recognize the quiet panic that ensues when he/she knows that all is about to spin out of control.
The painting is meant to be disconcerting, if not startling under the surface. In today’s society the “Beautiful People” are those who are strong on the inside, albeit possibly seemingly emotionally approachable externally. I have presented myself in various ways through my self-portraits. Here I am neither in control over my psychology, nor am I emotional (human?). That, together with the turquoise eye color, almond-shaped eyes, twisted and flattened features that are almost mask like, and elongated forms (à Dali, Picasso, Chirico etc., who succeeded the post-Impressionists), creates an « alien » (alienating) effect that is uncomfortable. It is not so weird that it is unacceptable, but rather strange in a way that invades the consciousness. Alas, that Devil is also a part of me.
BONUS: WORKING MY WAY OUT OF THE COVID-19 MENTALITY
« L’été de ma renaissance », 50 x 50 cm., huile sur toile, 2021.
Cet autoportrait impressionniste représente une image française classique du début du siècle (années 1900) par une belle journée d’été en Provence. Le cadre peint prolonge la sensation d’une brise légère et d’une délicieuse chaleur vibrante. Il est peint dans le style d’un artiste de rue – comme un croquis rapide et intuitif.
L’été de ma renaissance.
ne s’amusée pas
par la résistance qu’elle a endurée
et qui menace son règne de pouvoir.
Les nouveaux vaccins sont son
moment de Hiroshima,
et la grande dame qui est montée
si brusquement au pouvoir
et à la proéminence
a maintenant l’air fatiguée
Mais je suis ravi à l’idée
d’un été sauvage en Provence …
l’été de ma renaissance.
— Adam Donaldson Powell
” Imbarco sul treno della Belle Époque “, olio su tela, 40 x 40 cm., 2021.
Sono ancora infatuato dagli ultimi autoritratti di Freud. Trasudano cruda onestà da un pittore che ha ammesso di aver sempre lottato con l’accettazione di come appare realmente nei suoi dipinti. Le scelte che ha preso nell’accentuare le rughe, le ombre a volte poco lusinghiere e troppo elaborate, e i toni cupi della pelle che sembrano come se il processo di pittura stesse prosciugando la vita stessa da lui … È questa intimità che desidero esplorare in questo autoritratto. In questo quadro guardo indietro – verso i primi ritratti di Lucien Freud, e un’espressione più leggera, meno cupa, e leggermente umoristica e sorridente. I modelli di Freud non hanno quasi mai sorriso o mostrato emozioni. In questo autoritratto esprimo la mia euforia di poter viaggiare ancora una volta — attraverso un cartone animato … sto riscoprendo il bambino che è in me.
NB. Le orecchie sono lasciate fuori. Non voglio sentire parlare di COVID-19.
La ribellione degli artisti contro la creazione di un’arte universalmente bella è comprensibile, così come il desiderio di ridefinire l’estetica e la definizione di ciò che è veramente bello. Molti artisti hanno esplorato l’estetica dell’arte bello-brutto. Alcuni deformavano leggermente corpi o volti (per esempio El Greco, Botero, ecc.), mentre altri usavano astrazioni più severe (per esempio Picasso, Francis Bacon, ecc.). Tutti hanno affermato di dipingere ciò che hanno visto realmente, e anche molto onestamente. Picasso e Bacon sono così astratti che non sono più disarmanti per gli spettatori di oggi; questo perché l’arte “lontana” ora ci fornisce in qualche modo una distanza emotivamente sicura. Ma quando Lucien Freud adottò il suo allora nuovo stile naturalistico con pennellate audaci ed esagerazioni di rughe, orecchie che sporgono troppo, e una qualità senza vita nel colore della pelle, espressioni del viso e del corpo dei soggetti, ecc, entrò in un nuovo territorio psicologico nella sua arte. La mente e l’ego gravitano verso il naturalistico, ma allo stesso tempo sono respinti da deviazioni palesemente consolidate. È come guardare in uno specchio che amplifica tutti i nostri difetti, o temere che un bambino ci faccia qualche domanda imbarazzante su noi stessi in pubblico. Una volta ho visto una mostra a Londra con decine di fotografie di Diane Arbus. All’inizio il suo lavoro era eccentrico e intrigante. E dopo un po’ è diventato sempre più inquietante per me come spettatore. Era – come molti dei ritratti successivi di Freud – “troppo onesto”. Così dolorosamente onesto che non volevo più accettarlo come credibile. Beh, sappiamo come sono andate le cose con Diane Arbus….
«I motivi personali possono facilmente trasformare la passione per essere troppo onesti in una forma di disonestà.»
“Over there: Le rêveur américain”, huile sur toile, 40 x 40 cm, 2021. Ce portrait est peint avec l’ADN du modèle.
Le rêve américain est en constante évolution. Certains Américains se tournent vers l’Europe pour y trouver une inspiration et un soulagement – des conflits nationaux et de l’isolement COVID-19.
“Ce que les autres pensent de toi ne te regarde pas.”
— Ru Paul
UNE AUTRE AMÉRIQUE.
Peu d’Américains savent
que le visage de Miss Liberty
est celui de la mère d’un Français.
Comme les foules d’immigrants qui
délaissèrent le vieux monde
pour le nouveau,
nous aussi, nous considérons
ce choix merveilleux
à travers un regard quelque peu enfantin :
“Voleur de bétail, gigolo, banquier,
présentateur de télé, flic, pédé, punk ;
clocharde, nouveau-né bâtard,
agent de change,
ramoneur, médecin, avocat,
Oui, Oh Amérique, nos yeux sont
tous rivés sur toi …
avec la tarte aux pommes de maman
qui attend, encore fumante, sur la table
de la kitchenette,
et la jolie voisine à nos côtés.
Une nation, qui croit en Dieu,
jusqu’à notre dernier dollar
si péniblement gagné.
“Attention au précipice …
un dos brisé est si dur à réparer !”
Mais les fils de Genet sont
on ne peut plus reconnaissants
à ceux qui — deux sur mille –
traversent fréquemment les océans
et qui rêvent …
d’une autre Amérique.
(adapté de l’anglais par Albert Russo)
Copyright Adam Donaldson Powell, excerpted from “Collected poems and stories”, “Three-legged Waltz” and “Gaytude: a poetic journey around the world”).
Dans ce portrait de R. Davis (USA), je continue à repousser les limites du semi-réalisme et de l’abstraction, dans un mouvement audacieux vers le naturalisme classique … avec un accent d’impressionnisme. Davis rêve de traverser la grande mare – vers l’Europe. Les cartes postales de style impressionniste représentent des scènes miniatures de la gare centrale de Milan, du bord du lac à Saint-Moritz et de la station balnéaire de Saint-Raphaël.
Cette peinture m’a présenté un assortiment de défis impliquant de nombreuses décisions techniques et stylistiques, afin d’atteindre le meilleur équilibre possible entre les composantes figuratives et paysagères; et un effet subjectif global qui confirme l’action de la rêverie. Les cheveux de Davis sont peints avec son ADN, ce qui donne une signature personnelle supplémentaire – en plus de la mienne en tant qu’artiste.
— Adam Donaldson Powell
Now, if you think you have «seen it all» then check out this great art video on YouTube: